Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Review
Developer: Treyarch, Raven Software, Highmoon Studios, Sledgehammer Games, Beenox | Publisher: Activision | Genre: First-Person Shooter | Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S | Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
A divided world between the East and West unintentionally is the perfect representation for the current situation of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. On one side of the conflict, it’s a game that atmospherically and playfully fights for its future. On the opposing front, however, lies, schemes of repetition, and recycled aspects bring down the potential of one of the industry’s largest empires. Does the seventeenth installment in the Call of Duty series bring any significant upgrades to the table with its promise of being that next-generation leap?
That entirely depends on who and what you are asking for, but “not exactly” would be the definitive answer. For Activision, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is a guaranteed success in the seemingly never-ending first-person shooter series, but for fans, the battle for taking the next step into the future still hangs in the balance of doing what already works and being experimental. There is a yin to every yang Cold War presents.
Two of Cold War’s biggest struggles are providing a balanced campaign and multiplayer.
To start things off, like the titular battle between America’s fight to end the spread of communism and Russia’s overwhelming hold over public perception, Cold War’s campaign is constantly at odds with itself. It is by no means the game’s most trounced mode, but it certainly lacks finding a balance between being a thrill ride or a properly articulated narrative. The singleplayer can range from being an action-packed palooza focused on telling a direct follow-up story to the first Black Ops title, to a mindless bulletfest lacking a real lasting punch where action sequences are far longer than they probably should be. When Cold War stays quiet and keeps focused on clever stealth, it oftentimes manages to excel with what it is attempting to accomplish.
Although the story does not build much upon what has been previously established by Treyarch, Cold War is still able to pull through with a compelling story taking place in the shadows of history. While I do not want to get into the explicit details due to spoilers, the narrative continues the Black Ops tradition of shifting between the Americans and Russians as it attempts to follow a story from both perspectives. The mainstays like Mason and Woods are back, but the mere essence of this being a prequel-sequel means a lack of new characterization to the returning soldiers of the series. The campaign is undoubtedly entertaining, but it does not add anything substantial to the overarching franchise plot.
For those not interested in having their own solo adventures, claiming the online leaderboards with friends in a solid suite of multiplayer modes is probably going to make or break the experience for many. Cold War provides Kill Confirmed, Team Deathmatch, Domination, and the rest of Call of Duty’s familiar game types. Outside of course weapons and maps, It rarely flaunts anything new to the series besides its Dirty Bomb mode (which can be a catastrophic disaster).
It would be a disservice to not also mention that as of day one a few weapons–especially the MP5–are absolutely overpowered. With a lack of balancing, the multiplayer has an exceedingly difficult time holding consistently fair firefights for both sides of the conflict. If you are a die-hard for Call of Duty’s competitive online smash house and can hold out for those updates and tweaks the developers will surely provide, Cold War adds nothing original when it comes to playing with friends.
The land of the dead still remains the Black Ops series highlight.
For many Call of Duty fans, the endless hoard of the undead will be a crucial element in keeping their interest in the series alive. Out of all the game modes that have received adjustments and upgrades, it would be an understatement to say that Zombies has benefitted the most from Cold War’s various changes. However, not much has actually been improved in retrospect. The addition of health bars, a selection of weapons to boot up with, ammo crates, and various specialty devices are all substantial as they rapidly accelerate the pacing of those earlier sluggish rounds, but in the grand scheme of things, they genuinely do not change anything about the game mode itself, which is a shame.
If you have played Zombies before, whether that be from World at War or Black Ops III, you already know what you are getting into. Cold War provides only one new map at launch being Die Maschine, a location that actually contains a reimagined version of the first-ever Zombies building Nach Der Untoten. Outside of some new Megaton bosses that can provide an immense obstacle to overcome at times, Die Maschine is your typical Zombies nightmare–whether that be for better or worse. There is also the return of Dead Ops Arcade which has oddly been expanded upon to include more exploration and original segments through two-dimensional and first-person gameplay. However, it still plays identically to its first incarnation.
The only original feature to talk about regarding Zombies is the brand new Onslaught mode (something that is oddly only available to PlayStation users right now, but we will get back to that later). Tying into Die Maschine’s easter egg plot, Onslaught will have you fighting with one other player on recycled multiplayer maps in close proximities. Your goal is to simply follow an anomaly as you take down elites by gaining the typical perks and picking up better weapons. It is completely tacked on to the game and features nothing worth writing home about. The die-hard fans who buy Call of Duty titles just for Zombies will likely end up meandering through this addition once before never touching it again. While Onslaught incorporates neat ideas, it feels rather unfleshed and neglected as it relies on that same endless formula players love with no proper care.
Warzone, exclusivity, and graphics all compile into controversy galore.
The last mode to talk about is by far Cold War’s most astounding piece of technically unfinished content. It is presented as the game’s shining centerpiece, but it is yet to actually be completely implemented. Call of Duty’s incredible battle royal Warzone is still as entertaining as it was at launch. It is blatantly obvious that Activision has been pushing the title since its inception–with all the right reason–but can audiences truly deem it as a selling point for Cold War itself?
Like the rest of its multiplayer competition, Warzone is completely free as it attempts to sell players on seasonal passes containing special items and cosmetics. However, one can not ignore the fact that it is and has been on the market for well over a year now- Activision has not even included it in the title as it requires a completely separate download. Warzone is worthy of its own review. Calling it a reason to buy Cold War would be a sham as it is not even directly available through the game’s main menu yet (upon selection, the menu screen will close Cold War and open Modern Warfare, but Activision has stated that the mode will be fully implemented into the game December 10th).
There are two other things causing firefights online that players should note before jumping in. Firstly, due to PlayStation’s limited-time exclusivity rights over some of the game’s content, Xbox and PC players are being cheated out of additional features that will make their way over to the rival platforms late next year. These benefits only available for PlayStation 4 and 5 users include loadout slots, cosmetics, weapons, and even the Zombie Onslaught mode. Activision’s “PlayStation Gives You The Edge” campaign for the title is downright questionable. While it may seem like a sparse amount of content is being withheld, considering how some of these benefits work long-term, that advertising slogan is quite literal–holding back a mode for many players that is already complete is quite frankly disappointing and anti-consumer towards a large chunk of fans.
The second issue is a matter of technicality. Cold War’s graphics have caused a stir of opinions online and I would like to personally throw my hot take into the mix. To keep things short and simple, there are times where the title looks great and there are times when the art style can come off as head-shakingly poor. Sometimes the drab color palettes work in its favor, but other times there is a necessary desire for more colors and expression within atmospheres and character models. In comparison to many other triple-A titles that launched within the same week, Cold War struggles to find a definitive stance on what it wants to do with its art direction as it juggles multiple modes catering to different audiences–but perhaps that is just an analogy for this entire release and annual franchise as a whole.
Cold War will continue to satisfy its returning fans, but Call of Duty is still yet to make actual developments in its legacy.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is not that next-gen bridge fans of the franchise should be expecting. It falls in line with the same forward and backward steps that Ghost and Advance Warfare previously took when making their rough landing on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, ultimately leaving gaming’s biggest firefight to only do what it knows best. Perhaps it spirals in different directions as it attempts to revamp some of Call of Duty’s formula, but it will still please its yearly returning audience no matter the setbacks. Campaign enthusiasts will be given a relatively short story where the silence can be more entertaining than that of the high-octane sequences, multiplayer aficionados are likely to end up divided over the game’s day one decisions, and fans of the never-ending Zombies mode will be the most pleased out of the entire playerbase.
Cold War is by no means a failed mission, but for those looking for more depth and features in their next Treyarch-helmed battlefield, they will certainly not find it in this entry. Cold War shows that the Call of Duty franchise will constantly remain in a muddled conflict divided by familiarity and originality. While Activision still has taken no vital steps forward in advancing their golden goose, those constantly coming back will find themselves entertained over another well-made (albeit disappointingly superficial) new entry. One can only wonder when this franchise will ever evolve, but does the fanbase actually want it to? No matter what, Cold War will surely see the support of fans and developers until its era of downloadable content comes to an end.